Richard Bassett (April 2 1745 August 15 1815) was an American lawyer and politician from Dover, in Kent County Delaware. He was a veteran of the American Revolution, a delegate to the U.S. Constitutional Convention of 1787, and a member of the Federalist Party, who served in the Delaware General Assembly, as Governor of Delaware, and as U.S. Senator from Delaware.
Fortunately, Bassett’s mother was the great granddaughter and an heiress of Augustine Herrman, the original owner of Bohemia Manor, a massive estate in Cecil County, and her family raised Bassett. Eventually this heritage provided him with inherited wealth and a plantation, Bohemia Manor, in Cecil County, and much other property in New Castle County, Delaware.
Bassett was a reluctant revolutionary, more closely in tune with the approach of George Read than with his neighbors from Kent County, Caesar Rodney and John Haslet. Nevertheless, in 1774 he was elected to the local Boston Relief Committee. When the new government of Delaware was organized, Bassett served on the 1776 Delaware Council of Safety, and was a member of the convention responsible for drafting the Delaware Constitution of 1776, which was adopted September 20 1776. He was then one of the conservatives elected to Delaware's first Legislative Council, and served for four sessions, from 1776/77 through 1779/80. Subsequently, he was a member of the House of Assembly for the 1780/81 and 1781/82 sessions, and returned to the Legislative Council, for three sessions from 1782/83 through 1784/85. He concluded his state legislative career with a final term in the House of Assembly during the 1786/87 session. He thereby represented Kent County in all but one session of the Delaware General Assembly from independence to the adoption of the U.S. Constitution of 1787.
When the British Army marched through northern New Castle County, on the way to the Battle of Brandywine and the capture of Philadelphia, Bassett “appears to have joined his friend Rodney in the field as a volunteer.” Once the Delaware militia returned home after the British retired from the area, Bassett continued as a part-time soldier, assuming command of the Dover Light Horse, Kent County's militia cavalry unit.
With the establishment of the new government the Delaware General Assembly elected Bassett as one of the first new U.S. Senators. While there were no parties at the time he served, he was a supporter of a strong central government, and was allied particularly with the positions of Vice President John Adams. He “supported President George Washington's right to control the internal workings of the executive branch through the power of dismissing appointed officials, but he opposed some of Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton's more extreme proposals for advancing the powers of the presidency.” He was also among the first to advocate removing the federal capital to a new city on the Potomac River. Recent scholars have therefore classified him among the “Anti-Administration” members of the 1st Congress, but among the “Pro-Administration” members of the 2nd. In all he served in those two sessions, from March 4 1789, to March 3 1793, during the administration of U.S. President George Washington.
However, it was also during his term that Thomas Jefferson was elected President of the United States, causing great concern for the future of the country among the Federalists. The retiring President John Adams, rushed the Judiciary Act of 1801 through the Federalist Congress, creating a number of new judgeships on the United States circuit courts. Being a staunch Federalist and old political ally, Adams appointed Bassett on his last day in office in 1801 to one of the positions. He was one of the so-called midnight judges. But the legislation was repealed by the new Jeffersonian Congress, and his tenure ended quickly in April 1802. He never again held public office.
|Delaware General Assembly |
(sessions while Governor)
|Year||Assembly||Senate Majority||Speaker||House Majority||Speaker|
|1799||23rd||Federalist||Isaac Davis||Federalist||Stephen Lewis|
|1800||24th||Federalist||James Sykes||Federalist||Stephen Lewis|
|1801||25th||Federalist||James Sykes||Federalist||Stephen Lewis|
Bassett was a stout man of medium build. He was very fashionable and influential in society. At the Constitutional Convention of 1787 he was described as "gentlemanly, a religious enthusiast and a man of plain sense" with "modesty enough to hold his tongue." Bassett’s daughter, Anne married James A. Bayard, a U.S. Representative and U.S. Senator, and they were the ancestors of the branch of the Bayard family that has played a prominent role in Delaware politics ever since. His niece and adopted daughter, Rachel McCleary, married Governor Joshua Clayton of yet another family long prominent in Delaware politics.
|Office||Type||Location||Elected||Term began||Term ends||notes|
|Delegate||State Convention||Dover||August 29 1776||September 20 1776||Delaware|
|Legislative Councilor||Legislature||New Castle||1776||October 20 1776||October 20 1779|
|Legislative Councilor||Legislature||Dover||1779||October 20 1779||October 20 1780|
|Assemblyman||Legislature||Dover||1780||October 20 1780||October 20 1781|
|Assemblyman||Legislature||Dover||1781||October 20 1781||October 21 1782|
|Legislative Councilor||Legislature||Dover||1782||October 21 1782||October 20 1785|
|Assemblyman||Legislature||Dover||1786||October 20 1786||October 21 1787|
|Delegate||Convention||Philadelphia||May 14 1787||September 17 1787||United States|
|U.S. Senator||Legislature||Philadelphia||March 4 1789||March 3 1793||class 2|
|Delegate||State Convention||Dover||November 1792||June 12 1792||Delaware|
|Chief Justice||Judiciary||Dover||1793||January 9 1799||Court of Common Pleas|
|Governor||Executive||Dover||1798||January 9 1799||February 20 1801||resigned|
|Judge||Judiciary||Dover||February 20 1801||April 1802||U.S. Circuit Court|
|Delaware General Assembly service|
|1776/77||1st||State Council||non-partisan||John McKinly||Kent at-large|
|1777/78||2nd||State Council||non-partisan||George Read||Kent at-large|
|1778/79||3rd||State Council||non-partisan||Caesar Rodney||Kent at-large|
|1779/80||4th||State Council||non-partisan||Caesar Rodney||Kent at-large|
|1780/81||5th||State House||non-partisan||Caesar Rodney||Kent at-large|
|1781/82||6th||State House||non-partisan||John Dickinson||Kent at-large|
|1782/83||7th||State Council||non-partisan||Nicholas Van Dyke||Kent at-large|
|1783/84||8th||State Council||non-partisan||Nicholas Van Dyke||Kent at-large|
|1784/85||9th||State Council||non-partisan||Nicholas Van Dyke||Kent at-large|
|1786/87||11th||State House||non-partisan||Thomas Collins||Kent at-large|
|United States Congressional service|
|1789-1791||1st||U.S. Senate||non-partisan||George Washington||class 2|
|1791–1793||2nd||U.S. Senate||non-partisan||George Washington||class 2|
|1798||Governor||Richard Bassett||Federalist||2,490||52%||David Hall||Democratic-Republican||2,068||44%|